Ghost particles crashing into Antarctica reveal the unseen heart of the nearby Galaxy

Ghost particles crashing into Antarctica reveal the unseen heart of the nearby Galaxy
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About 47 million light-years away from where you sit, the center of a black hole-filled galaxy called NGC 1068 is spewing streams of mysterious particles. These “neutrinos” are otherwise known as “ghost particles”. haunt our universe but they leave little trace of their presence.

Immediately after their formation, swarms of these invisible bits are swept out into the vastness of space. They jostle with the bright stars we can see and scratch pockets of space full of wonders we have yet to discover. They fly, fly, and sometimes fly until they crash into a detector below the Earth’s surface.

Neutrinos travel flawlessly. But scientists are patiently waiting for their arrival.

More than 2 kilometers (1.24 mi) below Antarctica, it is buried in about 1 billion tons of ice IceCube Neutrino Observatory. A neutrino hunter you might say. When any neutrino moves its party to the cold continent, the IceCube is ready.

In a paper It was published Friday in the journal Science, the international team behind the experiment confirmed that they have found evidence of 79 “high-energy neutrino emissions” coming from the location of NGC 1068, opening the door to novel and endlessly fascinating physics. Scientists call this “neutrino astronomy”.

It would be a branch of astronomy that could do what existing branches simply cannot.

The starry sky shows the heart of the Milky Way.  There is a snow-covered surface of Antarctica, where a structure remains on the ground.

A front view of the IceCube Laboratory at dusk, a starry sky showing the Milky Way above and sunlight stretching across the horizon.

Martin Wolf, IceCube/NSF

Until now, physicists had only shown neutrinos from the sun; the atmosphere of our planet; a chemical mechanism called radioactive decay; supernova; and — thanks to IceCube’s first Breakthrough in 2017 — a blazar or voracious supermassive black hole headed directly toward Earth. Space named TXS 0506+056.

With this newly discovered neutrino source, we are entering a new era in the particle’s story. In fact, according to the research team, there are millions, perhaps even billions, of neutrinos originating from NGC 1068. trillions the amount of energy stored by neutrinos rooted in the sun or supernovae. These are staggering numbers, because in general, such ghosts are so powerful, but escape, every second trillions upon trillions of neutrinos go through your body. You just can’t say.

And if you want to stop the neutrino in its tracks, you have to fight it lead block a light-year across — though even then it would have little chance of success. So using these particles, NCG 1068 version or not, could allow us to penetrate areas of space that are normally inaccessible.

Now what?

This moment is not only great because it gives us more evidence of a strange particle It existed until 1956but also because neutrinos are like keys to the backstage of our universe.

They have the ability to detect phenomena and solve puzzles that we cannot solve by other means, which is the main reason why scientists tried to develop neutrino astronomy in the first place.

“The universe has many ways to communicate with us,” Denise Caldwell of the National Science Foundation and a member of the IceCube team told reporters Thursday. “The electromagnetic radiation we see as light from stars, gravitational waves shaking the fabric of space, and elementary particles such as protons, neutrons and electrons ejected by localized sources.

“One of these elementary particles was neutrinos that penetrated the universe, but unfortunately neutrinos are very difficult to detect.”

In fact, even the galaxy NGC 1068 and its supermassive black hole are usually shrouded in a thick veil of dust and gas, making them difficult to analyze with standard optical telescopes and equipment, despite scientists trying to pierce its veil for years. of NASA The James Webb Space Telescope because of it, in this case it can be a leg infrared eyesbut neutrinos may be a better way.

These particles, which are expected to be created behind such opaque screens that filter our universe, can carry cosmic information behind these screens, approach great distances while interacting with essentially no other matter, and deliver pristine, pristine information to humanity about the hard corners of space.

Elisa Resconi of the Technical University of Munich and member of the IceCube team said of NGC 1068: “We are very lucky in some ways because we can get an amazing understanding of this object.”

ice cube

In this artistic rendering based on a real image from the IceCube Laboratory at the South Pole, a distant source emits neutrinos that are detected under the ice by IceCube sensors called DOMs.


It is also notable that there are many more (many) galaxies similar to NGC 1068 — classified as Seyfert galaxies — more than TXS 0506+056-like blazars. This means that IceCube’s latest discovery is a bigger step forward for neutrino astronomers than the observatory’s seminal discovery.

Perhaps most of the neutrinos scattered throughout the universe are rooted in NGC 1068’s doppelgangers. But in the grand scheme of things, neutrinos have more uses than just their sources.

These ghosts are consistent with solving two major mysteries in astronomy, said Justin Vandenbroucke of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a member of the IceCube team.

First, many galaxies in our universe boast gravitationally monstrous voids at their centers, black holes reaching masses millions to billions of times that of our sun. And when these black holes are active, they shoot jets of light from their guts — enough light to illuminate every star in the galaxy itself. “We don’t understand how this happened,” Vandenbrouke said. Neutrinos may provide a way to study the regions around black holes.

Second, general, but continuous, the puzzle of cosmic rays.

We don’t really know where the cosmic rays come from either, but these streams of particles reach energies millions of times higher than what we can reach on Earth with man-made particle accelerators. The one at CERN.

“We think neutrinos have a role,” Vandenbrouck said. “Something that could answer these two mysteries of the origin of black holes and cosmic rays that power very bright galaxies.”

Ten years to catch a handful

To be clear, IceCube doesn’t exactly trap neutrinos.

Basically, this observatory tells us every time a neutrino interacts with the ice surrounding it. “Neutrinos hardly interact with matter,” Vandenbrouke emphasized. “But sometimes they interact.”

As millions of neutrinos fire into the icy region where IceCube is built, at least one tends to collide with an ice atom. splits and creates a flash of light. IceCube sensors that blink and send signals to the surface, notifications that are then analyzed by hundreds of scientists.


An image of the IceCube detector shows the interaction between a neutrino and an ice molecule.

IceCube Collaboration/NSF

Ten years of light-flash data allowed the team to determine almost exactly where each neutrino came from in the sky. It soon became clear that NGC 1068 contained a dense region of neutrino emission.

But even with such evidence, Resconi said the team “knows it’s not time to pop the champagne, because we have one fundamental question to answer. How many times has this match happened by chance? How can we be sure that neutrinos are actually coming from such an object?”

Chart from IceCube's latest results of the sky.  It shows where neutrinos come from all over the universe and pinpoints the densest places as sources.

A sky map of a scan of point sources in the Northern Hemisphere showing that neutrinos come from all over the universe. The circle of NGC 1068 also coincides with the overall hottest point in the northern sky.

IceCube Collaboration

So to make things as specific as possible and prove that this galaxy is indeed spitting out ghosts, “we recreated the same experiment 500 million times,” Resconi said.

On top of that, a bottle of Veuve was finally thrown in. Although the hunt is not over.

“We are only beginning to scratch the surface of finding new sources of neutrinos,” said Ignacio Taboada of the Georgia Institute of Technology and member of the IceCube team. “There must be many other sources deeper than NGC 1068 to be found somewhere.”

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